Oh Tara, Protect Us
by Venerable Thubten Chodron

Tara is one of the most beloved buddhas in Tibetan Buddhism. Her name means “the liberator.” She liberates us from ignorance, which is the root of cyclic existence, and from self-centred thought, which impedes us from attaining the full awakening of a buddha. She also liberates us from the eight dangers, each of which has an outer and inner aspect: the lion of arrogance, elephant of ignorance, fire of anger, snake of jealousy, thieves of wrong views, chain of miserliness, flood of attachment, and carnivorous demon of doubt.

How does Tara liberate and protect us from danger? It is not by swooping down and carrying us away to heaven or by making a problematic situation magically disappear. Enlightened beings cannot take our defilements away, like pulling a thorn from our foot. Nor can they give us their realisations, like pouring water into an empty bowl. The fundamental way Tara — or any other buddha — benefits sentient beings is by teaching us the dharma and inspiring us to investigate its meaning so we reach a correct understanding. She then guides us in meditation practice so we generate transformative realisations.

Through practising what we learn, we generate the wisdom that realises emptiness, and through meditating on emptiness, we cleanse our minds of defilements and actualise the cessation of suffering.

When requesting Tara to free us, we are actually calling upon our inner Tara — the seeds of our own wisdom and compassion. As we gradually cultivate these qualities, they protect us from the damage inflicted by the disturbing emotions.

Tara liberates us by embodying all the realisations of the path. Visualising her emerald-green form made of light, we contemplate the path and internalise its meaning, as each aspect of her form represents an aspect of the path to awakening. Tara also liberates us by being a role model. Formerly a princess who was told to pray to be reborn as a man, she attained full awakening in a woman’s body, encouraging us to overcome whatever prejudice, discrimination, or discouragement we may encounter.

The following verses requesting Tara to protect us from the eight dangers are from “A Crown Ornament for the Wise,” a hymn to Tara composed by Gyalwa Gendun Drubpa, the First Dalai Lama.

Dwelling in the mountains of wrong views of selfhood,
Puffed up with holding itself superior,
It claws other beings with contempt:
The lion of arrogance — please protect us from this danger!

Just as lions strut in mountainous areas, our arrogance dwells in wrong views concerning the nature of the “I” or “self.” Although the “I” is dependent, ignorance apprehends it as existing independent of all other factors. This wrong view is the root of our suffering in cyclic existence.

Holding an unrealistic view of how we exist, we then compare ourselves with others, becoming puffed up over those whom we deem inferior, jealous of those we consider superior, and competitive with equals. Our arrogance begets contempt, which, like a lion’s claws, causes harm. These harmful actions perpetuate our rebirth in unfortunate states of existence. Meanwhile, our arrogance prevents us from recognising our predicament in cyclic existence.

The wisdom that realises the emptiness of inherent existence is the ultimate antidote to all eight inner dangers, for it sees the true nature of the self — that it is empty of independent or inherent existence. However, since this realisation takes time to generate and is difficult to gain, we use other, easier antidotes in the meantime. These temporary antidotes correspond to each particular affliction. In the case of arrogance, we contemplate a difficult topic, such as the twelve sources or eighteen elements, which is essential to understand but difficult to comprehend. Recognising how limited our current understanding is makes us less arrogant.

Another antidote is to reflect that everything we know and every talent and ability we have comes from the kindness of others. People taught and coached us; they encouraged us in all areas. Seeing this, how can we be arrogant, thinking we are so special?

Bowing to the three jewels further helps counteract arrogance. While bowing, we contemplate the qualities of the three jewels so respect and admiration grow in our minds. Physically lying on the ground with our face on the floor induces humility and the relinquishing of ego, making us receptive students. Our heart becomes lighter; we are able to laugh at our foibles, and we are no longer fearful of others “finding us out.”

Untamed by the sharp hooks of mindfulness and introspective awareness,
Dulled by the maddening liquor of sensual pleasures,
It enters wrong paths and shows its harmful tusks:
The elephant of ignorance — protect us from this danger!

Powerful and out of control, a mad elephant terrorises all in its path. Similarly, uncontrolled emotions, which stem from ignorance, lead to a chaotic life that lacks clear priorities. Intoxicated by ignorant attachment to sense pleasures, we do whatever is necessary to procure what we seek. Ignorance takes us down wrong paths that lead only to confusion and suffering.

When petitioning Tara for protection, we call forth our own powers of mindfulness and introspective awareness, two active mental factors that perform special functions in the mind. Like a tamer who knows how to subdue a wild elephant and harness its energy for constructive purposes, these mental factors lead us to ethical behaviour and meditative concentration. The Sanskrit word that is translated as “mindfulness” can also be translated as “remember” or “memory.” So with respect to ethical conduct, mindfulness remembers our precepts and holds our values, and introspective awareness enables us to see if we are living within them. In the context of meditation, mindfulness is what focuses on the object of meditation and holds it so it is not forgotten, and introspective awareness is like a spy — a corner of our mind that investigates whether distraction, dullness, or excitement has set in, interfering with our meditation.

Driven by the wind of inappropriate attention,
Billowing forth swirling smoke — clouds of misconduct,
It has the power to burn down forests of goodness:
The fire of anger — protect us from this danger!

Like a raging fire, anger begins with a tiny spark. Fuelled by the wind of inappropriate attention that focuses on the negative qualities of someone or something, often exaggerating them, anger flares up. Blazing, it destroys merit and creates destructive karma that ripens into suffering.

Fortitude, the ability to remain internally calm when confronting harm or suffering, is the antidote to anger. Fortitude does not entail passively giving in or foolishly condoning harm. Rather, it enables clear thinking, mental stability, and creative problem solving. We consider various courses of action and choose one that will bring the most benefit and least harm to everyone in the situation. With fortitude we act firmly, sometimes with peaceful strength, other times with assertive compassion.

Lurking in its dark pit of ignorance,
Unable to bear the wealth and excellence of others,
It swiftly injects them with its cruel poison:
The snake of jealousy — protect us from this danger!

Jealousy, like other disturbing emotions, stems from ignorance of the nature of reality. Like a snake whose venom kills a healthy person, jealousy poisons the happiness and goodness of ourselves and others. Overcome by jealousy, we try to demolish the happiness and success of those we envy. But ultimately such behaviour is self-defeating, because even if we succeed, we do not feel good about ourselves when we undermine another’s well-being. Such spiteful jealousy not only lessens our own self-respect, it also suffocates our mental peace.

Rejoicing in the happiness, talents, fortune, and good qualities of others is the antidote to jealousy. When others are happy or have good qualities, we might as well rejoice! There is so much suffering in the world; it would be foolish to wish that others be deprived of whatever happiness they have.

Rejoicing is the lazy person’s way to create great merit. When we rejoice at others’ virtues, we accumulate merit as if we had acted in those beneficial ways ourselves. Rejoicing spurs us along the path to awakening and also brings us immediate happiness.

Roaming the fearful wilds of inferior practice
And the barren wastes of absolutism and nihilism,
They sack the towns and hermitages of benefit and bliss:
The thieves of wrong views — protect us from this danger!

Just as we protect our treasured possessions from thieves, we must take care that our right views on important spiritual matters are safeguarded. Adhering to wrong views causes us to engage in practices that purportedly lead to awakening but actually do not. They leave us impoverished, stranded in a spiritual desert.

We might be surprised to discover the number of wrong views we hold and the stubborn tenacity with which we hold them. When someone challenges our wrong views, we become upset and defensive. We may even disparage dharma teachings when they do not agree with our opinions.

The chief wrong views hold to the two extremes: absolutism and nihilism. Absolutism reifies the way in which phenomena exist, whereas nihilism negates aspects of their existence. While all persons and phenomena are empty of independent existence, absolutism holds that they exist independently, with their own inherent essence. Nihilism goes to the other extreme, disparaging the functioning of cause and effect. Adhering to either absolutism or nihilism prevents us from properly understanding both the ultimate nature and the conventional nature of phenomena. The Middle Way view enables us to distinguish accurately between what exists and what doesn’t, and to know what to practice and what to abandon.

Binding embodied beings in the unbearable prison
Of cyclic existence with no freedom,
It locks them in craving’s tight embrace:
The chain of miserliness — protect us from this danger!

Craving for the enjoyments of cyclic existence and the miserliness it produces chains us to suffering. We cling to our possessions, unable to part with them, and hoard our knowledge.

It’s easy to think we’re generous and magnanimous when we read this. We say to ourselves, “I’m not attached. I’d be happy to share whatever I have with others.” But should somebody ask us for our lunch, we may respond, “No, I’m hungry!” Or if somebody took our shoes from outside the meditation hall, we would be upset.

Believing that possessions will bring us security in cyclic existence, we fear that if we give things to others, we won’t have what we need. In fact, our miserliness keeps us bound in a prison of discontent. We constantly crave more and better, never satisfied with what we have.

Non clinging and generosity are the antidotes to miserliness. With non clinging we don’t conceive of material possessions as a reliable source of happiness or as an indicator of success. We discover contentment, a rare “commodity” in our materialistic society. Contentment allows us to cultivate the love that wishes others to have happiness, which in turn stimulates the mind that takes delight in giving. Giving with an open heart brings us joy and directly benefits others.

Sweeping us in the torrent of cyclic existence so hard to cross
Where, conditioned by the propelling winds of karma,
We are tossed in the waves of birth, ageing, sickness, and death:
The flood of attachment — protect us from this danger!

Like a flood, attachment sweeps over us, propelling us helplessly into the stormy ocean of cyclic existence. Under the influence of attachment to people, possessions, praise, power, and reputation, we harm others to get what we want. Our destructive actions create conflict and leave karmic seeds that produce suffering later on. In addition, at the time of death, strong attachment arises and we cling to our body and life. When we realise we cannot hold on to them, attachment then grasps another body and life, and rebirth occurs.

The mind of attachment is narrow and limited. We become obsessed with the object of our attachment; we worry about not getting it and fear losing it once we have it. Drowning in the flood of attachment, we are unable to abide in satisfaction and peace.

We need a guiding star to find our way across the dark seas of the disturbing emotions. The Sanskrit noun tara means “star,” and the verb trri means “to guide across” or “to cross over.” The dharma is our raft, and Tara is the star guiding us across cyclic existence to the other shore, nirvana. But Tara can’t do it alone. We must listen, reflect, and meditate on the teachings and transform our mind.

Contemplating our transient nature is an excellent antidote to attachment. Seeing that the things we cling to change moment by moment, we know that they will not last long and thus are not reliable sources of happiness. Turning away from their deceptive lure, we have more time to familiarise our minds with bodhicitta and wisdom, progressing along the stages of the bodhisattva path to buddhahood.

Reflecting on the disadvantages of cyclic existence is another antidote. If a prisoner believes that prison life isn’t that bad, he will have no interest in freeing himself. Similarly, as long as we believe cyclic existence to be comfortable, we won’t seek liberation. For this reason, in the four noble truths, the Buddha asked us first to reflect on the unsatisfactory nature of our existence and its causes so we might seek their cessation and the path leading to that state of peace.

Roaming in the space of darkest confusion,
Tormenting those who strive for ultimate aims,
It is viciously lethal to liberation:
The carnivorous demon of doubt — protect us from this danger!

There are various types of doubt, and not all of them are obstructive. The doubt that is curious and open-minded propels us to learn, examine, and clarify the meaning of a teaching; it aids us on the path. However, the doubt that dwells in confusion and leans toward wrong views causes our mind to spiral in circles of its own making and immobilises us spiritually. Resembling a carnivorous demon, it destroys our chance for liberation.

If our mind is spinning in skeptical doubt, when we start to do a practice, we doubt its efficacy and quit doing it. Listening to teachings, we doubt their authenticity and stop attending. We doubt our ability to practice, the ability of our teacher to guide us, the possibility of awakening. Unable to resolve our doubts, we remain stuck and tormented. This demon of doubt obstructs our chance to attain liberation and full awakening.

To counteract doubt, we must first stop the flurry of contradictory thoughts and calm our mind. Meditating on the breath dispels discursive thoughts and focuses our attention. A settled mind can distinguish important issues that need consideration from nonsensical, doubting thoughts.

Next, we must study the Buddha’s teachings and train our minds in reasoning so we are able to think clearly. In this way, we investigate the teachings, draw out their deeper meanings, and reach correct conclusions. For this reason, Tibetan monastics spend years debating and discussing the scriptures. Although we may not engage in formal debate, discussing topics with dharma friends fulfils the same purpose. We can clarify what we believe and practice accordingly.

These are the eight dangers from which Tara protects us. In addition to meditating and applying the antidotes described above, we can visualise Tara in front of us. The green light radiating from her flows into us, filling our body/mind, purifying and eliminating the disturbing emotions and the destructive karma we have created under their influence. Tara’s blissful green light fills the universe and all the beings within it, liberating them from the eight dangers and enhancing their love, compassion, and wisdom.

Through these praises and requests to you,
Quell conditions unfavourable for dharma practice
And let us have long life, merit, glory, plenty,
And other conducive conditions as we wish!

By meditating on Tara and applying the antidotes to the eight dangers in order to benefit all beings, we create tremendous merit. Directing how we want it to ripen, we then dedicate it: first, for all sentient beings to be free from conditions hindering dharma practice, such as poor health, poverty, and cynicism; and second, to meet all conditions conducive for actualising the path to awakening, such as long life, requisites for life, the guidance of kind and wise spiritual mentors, and suitable circumstances for study and practice.

Although the above verses are phrased in the manner of supplicating Tara to protect us from the various dangers, we must remember that Tara is not an inherently existent external deity. Like all persons and phenomena, she exists dependently and is empty of inherent existence. Although all beings who have become Tara are free from limitations from their side to help others, they are not omnipotent. They can teach, guide, and inspire us only to the extent that we are receptive. Reciting and contemplating these verses opens our minds and hearts to practice their meaning. The more we generate impartial love and compassion for all beings, the more Tara can influence us. The greater our wisdom of the ultimate nature, the more Tara can inspire us to deepen our realisations.

Tara is one of the most beloved buddhas in Tibetan Buddhism. Her name means “the liberator.” She liberates us from ignorance, which is the root of cyclic existence, and from self-centred thought, which impedes us from attaining the full awakening of a buddha. She also liberates us from the eight dangers, each of which has an outer and inner aspect: the lion of arrogance, elephant of ignorance, fire of anger, snake of jealousy, thieves of wrong views, chain of miserliness, flood of attachment, and carnivorous demon of doubt.

How does Tara liberate and protect us from danger? It is not by swooping down and carrying us away to heaven or by making a problematic situation magically disappear. Enlightened beings cannot take our defilements away, like pulling a thorn from our foot. Nor can they give us their realisations, like pouring water into an empty bowl. The fundamental way Tara — or any other buddha — benefits sentient beings is by teaching us the dharma and inspiring us to investigate its meaning so we reach a correct understanding. She then guides us in meditation practice so we generate transformative realisations.

Through practising what we learn, we generate the wisdom that realises emptiness, and through meditating on emptiness, we cleanse our minds of defilements and actualise the cessation of suffering.

When requesting Tara to free us, we are actually calling upon our inner Tara — the seeds of our own wisdom and compassion. As we gradually cultivate these qualities, they protect us from the damage inflicted by the disturbing emotions.

Tara liberates us by embodying all the realisations of the path. Visualising her emerald-green form made of light, we contemplate the path and internalise its meaning, as each aspect of her form represents an aspect of the path to awakening. Tara also liberates us by being a role model. Formerly a princess who was told to pray to be reborn as a man, she attained full awakening in a woman’s body, encouraging us to overcome whatever prejudice, discrimination, or discouragement we may encounter.

The following verses requesting Tara to protect us from the eight dangers are from “A Crown Ornament for the Wise,” a hymn to Tara composed by Gyalwa Gendun Drubpa, the First Dalai Lama.

Dwelling in the mountains of wrong views of selfhood,
Puffed up with holding itself superior,
It claws other beings with contempt:
The lion of arrogance — please protect us from this danger!

Just as lions strut in mountainous areas, our arrogance dwells in wrong views concerning the nature of the “I” or “self.” Although the “I” is dependent, ignorance apprehends it as existing independent of all other factors. This wrong view is the root of our suffering in cyclic existence.

Holding an unrealistic view of how we exist, we then compare ourselves with others, becoming puffed up over those whom we deem inferior, jealous of those we consider superior, and competitive with equals. Our arrogance begets contempt, which, like a lion’s claws, causes harm. These harmful actions perpetuate our rebirth in unfortunate states of existence. Meanwhile, our arrogance prevents us from recognising our predicament in cyclic existence.

The wisdom that realises the emptiness of inherent existence is the ultimate antidote to all eight inner dangers, for it sees the true nature of the self — that it is empty of independent or inherent existence. However, since this realisation takes time to generate and is difficult to gain, we use other, easier antidotes in the meantime. These temporary antidotes correspond to each particular affliction. In the case of arrogance, we contemplate a difficult topic, such as the twelve sources or eighteen elements, which is essential to understand but difficult to comprehend. Recognising how limited our current understanding is makes us less arrogant.

Another antidote is to reflect that everything we know and every talent and ability we have comes from the kindness of others. People taught and coached us; they encouraged us in all areas. Seeing this, how can we be arrogant, thinking we are so special?

Bowing to the three jewels further helps counteract arrogance. While bowing, we contemplate the qualities of the three jewels so respect and admiration grow in our minds. Physically lying on the ground with our face on the floor induces humility and the relinquishing of ego, making us receptive students. Our heart becomes lighter; we are able to laugh at our foibles, and we are no longer fearful of others “finding us out.”

Untamed by the sharp hooks of mindfulness and introspective awareness,
Dulled by the maddening liquor of sensual pleasures,
It enters wrong paths and shows its harmful tusks:
The elephant of ignorance — protect us from this danger!

Powerful and out of control, a mad elephant terrorises all in its path. Similarly, uncontrolled emotions, which stem from ignorance, lead to a chaotic life that lacks clear priorities. Intoxicated by ignorant attachment to sense pleasures, we do whatever is necessary to procure what we seek. Ignorance takes us down wrong paths that lead only to confusion and suffering.

When petitioning Tara for protection, we call forth our own powers of mindfulness and introspective awareness, two active mental factors that perform special functions in the mind. Like a tamer who knows how to subdue a wild elephant and harness its energy for constructive purposes, these mental factors lead us to ethical behaviour and meditative concentration. The Sanskrit word that is translated as “mindfulness” can also be translated as “remember” or “memory.” So with respect to ethical conduct, mindfulness remembers our precepts and holds our values, and introspective awareness enables us to see if we are living within them. In the context of meditation, mindfulness is what focuses on the object of meditation and holds it so it is not forgotten, and introspective awareness is like a spy — a corner of our mind that investigates whether distraction, dullness, or excitement has set in, interfering with our meditation.

Driven by the wind of inappropriate attention,
Billowing forth swirling smoke — clouds of misconduct,
It has the power to burn down forests of goodness:
The fire of anger — protect us from this danger!

Like a raging fire, anger begins with a tiny spark. Fuelled by the wind of inappropriate attention that focuses on the negative qualities of someone or something, often exaggerating them, anger flares up. Blazing, it destroys merit and creates destructive karma that ripens into suffering.

Fortitude, the ability to remain internally calm when confronting harm or suffering, is the antidote to anger. Fortitude does not entail passively giving in or foolishly condoning harm. Rather, it enables clear thinking, mental stability, and creative problem solving. We consider various courses of action and choose one that will bring the most benefit and least harm to everyone in the situation. With fortitude we act firmly, sometimes with peaceful strength, other times with assertive compassion.

Lurking in its dark pit of ignorance,
Unable to bear the wealth and excellence of others,
It swiftly injects them with its cruel poison:
The snake of jealousy — protect us from this danger!

Jealousy, like other disturbing emotions, stems from ignorance of the nature of reality. Like a snake whose venom kills a healthy person, jealousy poisons the happiness and goodness of ourselves and others. Overcome by jealousy, we try to demolish the happiness and success of those we envy. But ultimately such behaviour is self-defeating, because even if we succeed, we do not feel good about ourselves when we undermine another’s well-being. Such spiteful jealousy not only lessens our own self-respect, it also suffocates our mental peace.

Rejoicing in the happiness, talents, fortune, and good qualities of others is the antidote to jealousy. When others are happy or have good qualities, we might as well rejoice! There is so much suffering in the world; it would be foolish to wish that others be deprived of whatever happiness they have.

Rejoicing is the lazy person’s way to create great merit. When we rejoice at others’ virtues, we accumulate merit as if we had acted in those beneficial ways ourselves. Rejoicing spurs us along the path to awakening and also brings us immediate happiness.

Roaming the fearful wilds of inferior practice
And the barren wastes of absolutism and nihilism,
They sack the towns and hermitages of benefit and bliss:
The thieves of wrong views — protect us from this danger!

Just as we protect our treasured possessions from thieves, we must take care that our right views on important spiritual matters are safeguarded. Adhering to wrong views causes us to engage in practices that purportedly lead to awakening but actually do not. They leave us impoverished, stranded in a spiritual desert.

We might be surprised to discover the number of wrong views we hold and the stubborn tenacity with which we hold them. When someone challenges our wrong views, we become upset and defensive. We may even disparage dharma teachings when they do not agree with our opinions.

The chief wrong views hold to the two extremes: absolutism and nihilism. Absolutism reifies the way in which phenomena exist, whereas nihilism negates aspects of their existence. While all persons and phenomena are empty of independent existence, absolutism holds that they exist independently, with their own inherent essence. Nihilism goes to the other extreme, disparaging the functioning of cause and effect. Adhering to either absolutism or nihilism prevents us from properly understanding both the ultimate nature and the conventional nature of phenomena. The Middle Way view enables us to distinguish accurately between what exists and what doesn’t, and to know what to practice and what to abandon.

Binding embodied beings in the unbearable prison
Of cyclic existence with no freedom,
It locks them in craving’s tight embrace:
The chain of miserliness — protect us from this danger!

Craving for the enjoyments of cyclic existence and the miserliness it produces chains us to suffering. We cling to our possessions, unable to part with them, and hoard our knowledge.

It’s easy to think we’re generous and magnanimous when we read this. We say to ourselves, “I’m not attached. I’d be happy to share whatever I have with others.” But should somebody ask us for our lunch, we may respond, “No, I’m hungry!” Or if somebody took our shoes from outside the meditation hall, we would be upset.

Believing that possessions will bring us security in cyclic existence, we fear that if we give things to others, we won’t have what we need. In fact, our miserliness keeps us bound in a prison of discontent. We constantly crave more and better, never satisfied with what we have.

Non clinging and generosity are the antidotes to miserliness. With non clinging we don’t conceive of material possessions as a reliable source of happiness or as an indicator of success. We discover contentment, a rare “commodity” in our materialistic society. Contentment allows us to cultivate the love that wishes others to have happiness, which in turn stimulates the mind that takes delight in giving. Giving with an open heart brings us joy and directly benefits others.

Sweeping us in the torrent of cyclic existence so hard to cross
Where, conditioned by the propelling winds of karma,
We are tossed in the waves of birth, ageing, sickness, and death:
The flood of attachment — protect us from this danger!

Like a flood, attachment sweeps over us, propelling us helplessly into the stormy ocean of cyclic existence. Under the influence of attachment to people, possessions, praise, power, and reputation, we harm others to get what we want. Our destructive actions create conflict and leave karmic seeds that produce suffering later on. In addition, at the time of death, strong attachment arises and we cling to our body and life. When we realise we cannot hold on to them, attachment then grasps another body and life, and rebirth occurs.

The mind of attachment is narrow and limited. We become obsessed with the object of our attachment; we worry about not getting it and fear losing it once we have it. Drowning in the flood of attachment, we are unable to abide in satisfaction and peace.

We need a guiding star to find our way across the dark seas of the disturbing emotions. The Sanskrit noun tara means “star,” and the verb trri means “to guide across” or “to cross over.” The dharma is our raft, and Tara is the star guiding us across cyclic existence to the other shore, nirvana. But Tara can’t do it alone. We must listen, reflect, and meditate on the teachings and transform our mind.

Contemplating our transient nature is an excellent antidote to attachment. Seeing that the things we cling to change moment by moment, we know that they will not last long and thus are not reliable sources of happiness. Turning away from their deceptive lure, we have more time to familiarise our minds with bodhicitta and wisdom, progressing along the stages of the bodhisattva path to buddhahood.

Reflecting on the disadvantages of cyclic existence is another antidote. If a prisoner believes that prison life isn’t that bad, he will have no interest in freeing himself. Similarly, as long as we believe cyclic existence to be comfortable, we won’t seek liberation. For this reason, in the four noble truths, the Buddha asked us first to reflect on the unsatisfactory nature of our existence and its causes so we might seek their cessation and the path leading to that state of peace.

Roaming in the space of darkest confusion,
Tormenting those who strive for ultimate aims,
It is viciously lethal to liberation:
The carnivorous demon of doubt — protect us from this danger!

There are various types of doubt, and not all of them are obstructive. The doubt that is curious and open-minded propels us to learn, examine, and clarify the meaning of a teaching; it aids us on the path. However, the doubt that dwells in confusion and leans toward wrong views causes our mind to spiral in circles of its own making and immobilises us spiritually. Resembling a carnivorous demon, it destroys our chance for liberation.

If our mind is spinning in skeptical doubt, when we start to do a practice, we doubt its efficacy and quit doing it. Listening to teachings, we doubt their authenticity and stop attending. We doubt our ability to practice, the ability of our teacher to guide us, the possibility of awakening. Unable to resolve our doubts, we remain stuck and tormented. This demon of doubt obstructs our chance to attain liberation and full awakening.

To counteract doubt, we must first stop the flurry of contradictory thoughts and calm our mind. Meditating on the breath dispels discursive thoughts and focuses our attention. A settled mind can distinguish important issues that need consideration from nonsensical, doubting thoughts.

Next, we must study the Buddha’s teachings and train our minds in reasoning so we are able to think clearly. In this way, we investigate the teachings, draw out their deeper meanings, and reach correct conclusions. For this reason, Tibetan monastics spend years debating and discussing the scriptures. Although we may not engage in formal debate, discussing topics with dharma friends fulfils the same purpose. We can clarify what we believe and practice accordingly.

These are the eight dangers from which Tara protects us. In addition to meditating and applying the antidotes described above, we can visualise Tara in front of us. The green light radiating from her flows into us, filling our body/mind, purifying and eliminating the disturbing emotions and the destructive karma we have created under their influence. Tara’s blissful green light fills the universe and all the beings within it, liberating them from the eight dangers and enhancing their love, compassion, and wisdom.

Through these praises and requests to you,
Quell conditions unfavourable for dharma practice
And let us have long life, merit, glory, plenty,
And other conducive conditions as we wish!

By meditating on Tara and applying the antidotes to the eight dangers in order to benefit all beings, we create tremendous merit. Directing how we want it to ripen, we then dedicate it: first, for all sentient beings to be free from conditions hindering dharma practice, such as poor health, poverty, and cynicism; and second, to meet all conditions conducive for actualising the path to awakening, such as long life, requisites for life, the guidance of kind and wise spiritual mentors, and suitable circumstances for study and practice.

Although the above verses are phrased in the manner of supplicating Tara to protect us from the various dangers, we must remember that Tara is not an inherently existent external deity. Like all persons and phenomena, she exists dependently and is empty of inherent existence. Although all beings who have become Tara are free from limitations from their side to help others, they are not omnipotent. They can teach, guide, and inspire us only to the extent that we are receptive. Reciting and contemplating these verses opens our minds and hearts to practice their meaning. The more we generate impartial love and compassion for all beings, the more Tara can influence us. The greater our wisdom of the ultimate nature, the more Tara can inspire us to deepen our realisations.

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When we meet real tragedy in life, we can react in two ways — either by losing hope and falling into self-destructive habits, or by using the challenge to find our inner strength.

— His Holiness the 14th Dalai Lama

妄谈自己证果及神通感应的严重过失
净界法师

语戒有大妄语跟小妄语,我们先看大妄语,第一个。

【向人说证果乃至罗刹来到我所, 彼领解——上品不可悔罪。】

这个上品不可悔,叫做破戒了。也就是说,你杀盗淫妄一旦破戒,你就有堕三恶道的可能性了。任何一个业力,只要临终被刺激出来,都会到三恶道,只要是上品不可悔罪。

这个大妄语的过失有两个:

第一个,是说自己证果,就是妄谈自己的果证;

第二个,就是“罗剎来到我所”,这是妄谈感应神通,这两个是很严重的过失。

在《楞严经》讲到这两种过失,我们解释一下,为什么大妄语的严重性,它不轻于前面的杀盗淫。佛陀说,杀盗淫这三种过失,会让你未成不成。你没有成就功德,你要成就的功德,因为你犯杀盗淫,你就没办法成就了;但是大妄语戒会让你“既成必失”,你本来念佛念得非常好,乃至于成就念佛三昧,你因为大妄语,你的功德一定会失掉,大妄语会让你功德成就了也会失掉。

为什么它的过失这么严重呢?《楞严经》提出两点:第一个,你讲你自己的果证,扰乱众生学佛的因缘。我们寻求佛法有两种情况:佛在世时以佛为师;佛灭度以后,以法为师。佛陀在世时以人为主,因为佛是圆满的,佛陀怎么说,我们依教奉行,没有第二句话。

但是,一个圆满的佛陀灭度以后,就不能以人为师,要以法为师。也就是说,在末法时代的修学,法重于人。当然我们归依法,也得顺便归依人,因为法跟人分不开,佛法是赖人来弘传,但是它的重点还在法。

你今天说,你是初果、二果、三果、四果,很容易造成一种个人崇拜。本来这个人要依止海公师父修学成就,另外一个人依止忏公师父的法而成就,结果你说你是初地菩萨,这些人就全部来归依你了。每一个人过去生结的法缘不同,他跟你可能是没有法缘,但是因为你自己说的,你是一个圣人,造成一种盲目的崇拜,他本来应该法得度的,结果他失去了一个得度的机会。因为你破坏整个佛教的因缘,你把人放在法的上面。

所以佛陀在《楞严经》上说,即便你是圣人,你没有打妄语,你是圣人,你也不可以宣说,因为佛陀的意思是不能强调人,每一个人都是凡夫,众生的因缘,让它自己去运作。

在禅宗里面就特别有这种情况:这个人跟临济宗有缘,他一听就开悟;这个人在临济宗里面,参了三个月没有开悟,到了曹洞宗马上开悟。同样一个道,但是善知识表达的法不同,他契他的机,过去生跟他结缘,结法缘。所以你今天宣说你个人的果证,就打乱众生一种正常的缘起,每一个人都来亲近你,但不是每一个人都跟你有法缘,你耽误了他学佛的因缘时间。

所以佛陀规定,所有的人一旦来到末法时代,要把你的本地风光收起来。你过去生是怎么回事,通通不能讲,每个人都扮演一个正常的凡夫,靠这个法的因缘,各有各的定位。

这个地方,不能打大妄语的意思就是说,必须把法放在最高,人是在法的下面。你打大妄语,你就错乱了,你这个人崇拜多于法,这个时候佛教就乱了。这是第一个,你扰乱了众生学佛的因缘。

第二个,感应神通。这个过失更严重,你破坏众生缘起的正见。我们的离苦得乐来自于皈依法,内调妄想,外断罪业,那都是依法修学。你今天讲感应神通,让众生追求一个相,一个不可思议的相状,这个相状救不了你。我们承认你好好地修学,整个过程会出现一些不可思议的相状,但这个相状只是一个过程,它是一个副产品。

佛教也承认感应神通,但是重点不在这个地方,因为你有法,你才有这个功德相。你现在是舍本逐末,讲感应神通,大家打佛七时,就不专心听佛号了,就是在看,欸,佛什么时候出现?就很容易着魔。

诸位!你有法你才有相。因为他如法地去安住佛号,所以才去感应佛陀,这根本在法。你现在追求相而轻法,你这个叫做舍本逐末。所以你这个破坏整个众生的缘起正见,因为有法才有相,不是先有相再有法。

你先谈感应神通,刺激大家向外攀缘,糟了!大家不再注意自己的五戒十善四谛十二因缘的法,大家已经不管自己的法,就追求那个相,这个就是破坏众生缘起的正见,你把他的善根破坏了。

所以这两个过失很重。第一个,扰乱众生的学佛因缘;第二个,破坏众生内心的善根。为什么你要付出代价?你这个宣说大妄语人,你的戒定慧功德必定失掉,因为你过失太重了,就是这样一个情况,叫上品不可悔罪。

我们再往下看,中品罪跟下品罪,请合掌。

【向天龙鬼神说证果等,彼领解;向人说证果等,而言不了了,前人未解;向聋痴不解语者说——中品可悔罪。向不解语畜生说,发心欲言而未言——下品可悔罪。】

我们先看中品的可悔罪,这个过失比较轻。就是说,它不会马上去破坏你的善根,但是如果你不忏悔,那长时间的累积,也可能会破坏善根,这是中品。就是说,你不是针对人,你向天龙鬼神说证果等,对方理解。

为什么向天龙说的是同样的话,不是针对人,他的过失比较轻呢?因为这些人不是法器,他根本就很难修行,所以你这样讲,他听懂以后,反正他也不能修行,所以你也就没有所谓扰乱他的学佛因缘,也就没有所谓破坏他的正见的问题。因为他根本就没办法修行,他听你发心欲言而未言,对他有听没有听的影响不大,所以中品。

向人说证果等,但是对方没有听得很清楚,没有真实地理解,没有对他构成一种实质的伤害,这个中品;向聋痴不解语者说,他是个聋子或者是一个愚痴的众生,你讲什么他听不懂,当然这个对他的伤害就轻了,这是中品可悔罪。

我们看下品。

向畜生说那更轻了,或者你发心欲言而未言,这个就是下品可悔罪。这个责心忏就可以了。

Please understand that all sentient beings, all our past parents, want nothing but happiness. Unfortunately, through their negative actions they only create the causes for further pain and suffering. Take this to heart and consider all our parents, wandering blindly and endlessly through painful samsaric states. When we truly take this to heart, out of compassion we feel motivated to achieve enlightenment to truly help all of them. This compassionate attitude is indispensable as a preparation for practice.

— Tulku Urgyen Rinpoche

Forest Wat, Wild Monks
by Buddhadasa Bhikkhu

Today, I’ll speak about “Forest Wat Wild Monks.” A topic like this is easy to remember and understand. It’s straight-forward and clear. Since you only have a month left as monks, I think you ought to live as “forest wat wild monks,” correctly and completely, for at least a little while. Later, it will probably be beneficial, that is, it might make you fit and adequate after you have disrobed. Even ordinary householders should know something about “forest wat wild monks.”

These words may sound ugly, but the Buddha and the Arahants (Worthy Ones, Perfected Ones) lived in this way. Please realise that originally all of the wats, monasteries, and ashrams were outside the cities and villages. None were within the city walls. They were forest wats implicitly and in truth. To say “wild monks” is a bit hard on the ears, because the word “wild” can have bad connotations. Here, however, “wild” means the opposite of cities. Town wats and city monks are the opposite of “forest wats and wild monks.” Take the meaning of “wild monk” merely to be the opposite of “city monk.”

Consider Suan Mokkh a bit. We’ve intended for it to be a forest wat from the very start. Things I had studied led me to know more about how the Buddha lived. Understanding how he lived, I wanted to have a lifestyle like his. So I thought of supporting the forest style of living. Then, we went even further using the words “to promote vipassana-dhura.” We used the phrase that was common then. They called the practice in solitary and quiet places, such as in forests, “vipassana-dhura.” We intended to promote vipassana-dhura, or the meditation-duty, to revive it, so we thought of having a place in the forest.

Now, although the village is encroaching, we can probably maintain the condition of a forest wat. To do so, the monks must have a discipline or system of living which is most intimate with nature. This means being comrades with nature, to sit and talk, to sit and watch, to sit and listen, together with nature. The meaning of “wild monk” is to live naturally.

In the past, the elders and old teachers called the monks who live in the forest “nature monks,” while the monks in the towns and cities, especially Bangkok, were called “science monks.” This is a rural way of speaking, we need not judge whether it is right or wrong: “science monks” and “nature monks.” Here, we are nature monks, living in harmony with nature, close to nature, studying nature, until realising nibbana, which is the pinnacle of nature. Please understand the words “forest wat” and “wild monks” like this.

Please take only the essential meaning of these words. If we take the essence of “forest wat,” it means “the most simply way of living” and “wild monks” means “to live most simply.” You can blend the two together, they mean the same thing.

So, would all of you please live in the most simple way. So far, you’re not yet living most simply, although you may be close. Try to readjust things yourself, through the end of the Rains. From now on, make your living even more easy. The more simple, the more natural it is. The more natural it is, the less opportunity for “I” and “mine” to be born. Thus, it automatically becomes correct and beautiful according to our monks’ way.

This is an extremely important and genuine fact. Live naturally and it will be Dhamma (Natural Truth) and Vinaya (Natural Discipline), or Nature, in and of itself. Living naturally is near to nibbana, more so than living scientifically, because nibbana is already the highest nature: naturally clean, clear, and calm. Live naturally, it helps make us clean, clear, and calm more easily.

Now, I want you to hold the general principle that Nature, the Law of Nature, Duty in line with the Law of Nature, and the Fruit received from doing Duty according to the Law of Nature, are the most important matter. This is Buddhism, it’s the essence of religion without needing to call it religion. It’s better to call it “Truth of Nature” or “Natural Truth.”

Now, don’t have regrets about anything. There isn’t much time left, so you won’t be missing much. Just sacrifice your pleasures and comforts. Try out this natural living which automatically has lots of cleanness, clarity, and calm. You’ve had enough time to read, hear talks, and study the basics of being a monk. Henceforth, know especially the things which will have the most benefit. Then your time as a monk will be over, you will have beneficial knowledge which is complete, that is, you know in general and in specifics, you know loosely and strictly, until you know how the Buddha lived.

When we speak of the Lord Buddha, never forget that he was born outdoors, awakened outdoors, realised nibbana outdoors, taught outdoors, lived outdoors, had a hut with an earthen floor, and so on. We give it as much of a try as we can. Even now, we see that we’re sitting on the ground, which is much different than in the city wats. There they sit on wooden floors, on mats, on carpets, depending on the status of each wat. Some wats spread expensive carpeting in the temple building for all eternity. So they sit in their chapels on carpets. Here, we sit on the seat of the Buddha — the ground. This is one example for you to understand what nature is like, and how different it is from the cities, and how different are the hearts of those who come sit and interact with Nature.

I’ve tried my best in this matter. When Suan Mokkh was first started, I slept on the ground. I slept next to the grasses in order to know their flavour. I used to sleep on the beach, too. Then, when I first slept in the “middle hut” after it was newly built, I would stretch my hand out the window to fondle the plants next to the window. This completely different feeling is the meaning of “forest wat wild monk.”

Everything changes. Feelings, sensitivity, standards, what have you, they change by themselves. Matters of food, shelter, clothing, rest, sleep, aches and illness: they changed completely. They caused us to understand Nature more than when we hadn’t tried yet, until finally there were no problems at all. Things which I had feared all disappeared. Fear of loneliness in deserted places, fear of spirits, fear of anything, they didn’t last more than seven days. They gradually disappeared themselves. This led to mental comfort, ease, and other fruits. The mind became strong, agile, subtle, and refined. Those were its fruits. Thus, whatever I thought of doing, I could do it better than before I came to the forest, better than in the city. There’s no comparison between living in Bangkok and living here. They’re totally different. I can say there’s more ability, more strength, more of everything. One can do anything beyond expectations and personal limitations. Whether writing a book, reading, or thinking, much more can be done.

One lives in the lowest way materially and physically, but the mind goes its own separate way. It takes a higher course, because when we live simply the mind isn’t pulled in. The heart is released so that it lifts up high. If we sleep comfortably, like wealthy householders, that comfort grabs the heart. It traps the heart, which can’t go anywhere, can’t escape, is stuck there. So live and sleep more lowly, since humble things won’t trap the heart. Live humbly and the mind will rise high, will think lofty things.

Living in a humble condition, in one that can’t fall lower, the mind can only proceed in a higher way. It’s easy because we needn’t carry or load down the mind with anything. The mind can be “normal” and free. It is free in its movements, reflections, and actions. Thus, we can freely do anything of the sort which is not like anyone else. Through the power of nature, there isn’t any carelessness, we don’t make mistakes. Since the mind is heedful there are no mistakes.

That the heart can find a way out like this must be considered freedom. Know the mind that is independent, that isn’t caught and held by deliciousness and pleasure, by the happiness and comfort of eyes, ears, nose tongue, body, and mind.

Here I want to make a distinction. If something is in line with original nature, and there’s no indulgence in new pleasures, we’ll call it “natural.” If it goes after new pleasures, if newly concocted for more tasty pleasures than nature, we’ll call it “unnatural.” They’re truly different. If going naturally, the defilements arise with difficulty, they can’t arise. If acting in an unnatural way, it’s easy for the defilements to be born, or else it’s defilement from the very start. Thus, living as nature’s comrade makes it hard for the defilements. It automatically controls and prevents against the defilements (kilesa).

This is the spirit of Suan Mokkh, of setting up a place like this. When you want this enough to come here, then you ought to get it. Besides this, there isn’t anything. We’ve tried to prevent other things from happening, so that there are only these things: how to eat, how to live, and how to sleep. We’ve spoken many times of the specific details of each.

I’ve said it before, but nobody believes me that to take exactly what nature provides is sufficient, is good enough. When we must die, then die. Don’t postpone and make it difficult. It’s like the medical care that has progressed to the point that people are unable to die, they can’t drop. They live inhumanly, but not dead. That’s too much. Heart transplants, liver transplants, and all that exceed nature. It’s better not to. And please look, it doesn’t make humanity any better. It doesn’t create peace in the world. If mental matters don’t progress, if there’s only defilement — delusion and all — there’ll be no end.

In summary, make things humble so that they don’t trap the mind. Then this heart of ours is free to think, consider, decide, and choose. Please use the mindfulness and wisdom that you receive from this style of living to choose and decide what you must in the future.

If you were born in Bangkok, you were surrounded by man-made things and raised far from the forest, much more than people born in the forest. Those born in towns and cities hardly know the meaning of “forest” or “wild.” Those born in the sticks know something, but don’t pay any attention. They must work, must always be doing something according to their moods, so they hardly notice how calm and clean it is. Sometimes they are even dissatisfied with it, although born in the country. Our hearts don’t like it and always aim to get into “developed and beautiful” areas in the cities and capital. Thus, we don’t know the taste of the forest and of Nature, even if born in the forest, even when splattered with mud, because the mind is occupied in another way.

Now you’re in robes and needn’t work like lay folk. The heart has a chance to know the peaceful flavours and quiet nooks of Nature, which is the cause of the mind’s freedom in the first place. You ought to use this final chance here to keep walking until knowing the heart that is naturally pure, which is something like the heart of the Arahant. The Arahant’s heart is just like that — natural — except it’s that way totally. Now, we may have a heart like that, but only momentarily, temporarily. The next moment it changes off in another direction, and we can’t pull it back. Try to penetrate this heart of nature.

In clear and simple terms, we call it pure nature, nature which isn’t concocted (“cooked and seasoned”) by anything. And we don’t concoct that nature either. It exists simply, humbly, freshly, peacefully, coolly, however you want to describe it. If you know this flavor, you know the flavor of Dhamma, in its aspect of the only fruit worth having, because Dhamma’s reality (literally, “body”) has been captured. Those who just study and take exams never receive Dhamma’s reality. All they can do is holler about it. If somehow you can catch Dhamma itself, it’s like catching a crab or fish, it’s something tangible. Here we can catch the substance of cleanness, clarity, and calm — the body of Dhamma. Even temporarily is worth it. To have grasped it and seen it just once is better than never having grasped, known, or seen it at all.

The academics only memorise and recite, then take examinations, then memorise and recite some more. They think only according to what they’re told. Their minds don’t reach cleanness, clarity, and calm at all. From the theoretical studies or scriptures, one just gets stories and information. To phrase it more politely, one gets only a map. Actually, they don’t even get the map. I know this well because I’ve tried that way myself. I’ve taken the full Dhamma Course, studied the Pali language (in which the Theravada scriptures are written), and researched continuously. It seems I got only complicated stories — mostly mixed up and confused to boot — without getting even a map. Those who talk of scholarship, of being Pali experts and Dhamma Masters, of having a map, they make it up, imagine, and arrange it themselves.

Actually, the real map is much clearer than all that. We must pass through, must arrive at, and receive “something” — appropriately and sufficiently — in order to know the correct and true map. It’s as if we’re making a map and must wade through that respective subject or area in order to draw the map. If we draw it from guesses and imagination, it will be a mess. If we try to make a map of everything, it’s a huge mess. These scholars who have finished their studies end up with a scholarly map that’s a mess. It’s a mess because it is wrongly explained, wrongly remembered, wrongly taught, and, especially, wrongly interpreted. Who knows what kind of map it is. These literary maps according to the study books are a mess because they’re all mixed up.

That’s not our way. We’ll do something, find some method, which takes the heart all the way to that city: the city of peace, the state of peace, the nature which is peace. This short cuts the map. This is the methodology of “forest wat wild monks”: keep looking for and aiming at only the peaceful mind.

Just this single word “peace” has multitudinous meanings. It’s easy to say “peace,” but it’s hard to understand and difficult to practice. But you must try. Therefore, please try to continually follow and search: “Is this peace? Is this peace?”

The word “peace” means “not troubled, not anxious, not agitated, not disturbed, not painful, not pierced.” To begin, remember these meanings. On the other hand, the minds of most people are troubled, stabbed, cut, and roasted by desires, by doubts, by worries, by the kind of wishes that build castles in the sky. They usually happen all the time; you ought to get rid of them. I’m not forbidding you to want anything or do anything. I only want things to happen peacefully.

Some people may think that this runs counter to human existence in the world. Listening superficially, it may sound like that. When human beings in this world don’t want peace, they will want stimulation, they will want the state that stimulates pleasure through the eyes, ears, nose, tongue, body, whichever way, all ways. They want to get excited, they don’t want peace and calm. This makes it somewhat difficult to speak about these matters.

We have a choice. Stimulation, the state of having kilesa always waiting to drive and manipulate us, what’s that like? And we must ask, which direction will it lead? How far will it reach? It has no end. So we could exploit this and make some money from the fact that humanity has endless wants, make a business out of humanity’s endless wants, and get rich ourselves. The rich have wants that never end. They follow after these endless desires, then what kind of world will that be? This is how different it is in the cities, totally opposite from “forest wat wild monks,” who want to stop, to be cool, and to be calm.

The problem is like this: the world’s people don’t want peace. How will we pursue peace? And when living in the middle of people who don’t want peace, how will we live peacefully? Another way is to live by making money off the people who don’t want peace. Now, however, we should focus on the fact that it is necessary to live in the midst of such people. How can we be peace? How can we use our understanding of this peace to solve those problems?

I still think that it can work. Please know how to calm the mind; then work with those non-peaceful people in those incredibly chaotic cities and capitals. We can have minds that are under control, are “normal,” are on track, are disciplined, are at peace; they do what they should. Finally, if we must work for people who are not calm, we are up to it.

In the scriptures there’s a story of a woman Stream-Enterer whose husband is a hunter. They still were able to live together. It doesn’t sound believable, and probably nobody will believe it, but that’s what the scriptures say. She wasn’t tainted by her husband’s sins. They could live as husband and wife without losing her Stream-Entry. Think about it. You must know how to take special care of the heart. Guard the condition of peace according to your own particular skills.

Close your eyes and imagine this scene. One person is “normal” and able to smile. He works with another who always acts like a demon or devil. How can he do it? I say he can. If a person is at peace, has sufficiently trained, he can do it. But he probably wouldn’t want to bother. He’s more likely to find another place to work. Here, we’re just trying to show that if one tries, it is possible. If one’s heart is secure and “normal,” there’s nobody who could shake him. If anyone tried to get him to do something wicked, he wouldn’t do it and would probably run away.

This talk is to help you begin to see that this matter of calmness is no obstacle. Further, it’s beneficial in that it gradually transforms those who aren’t calm, making them more calm and in love with calmness. One makes blessings without being conscious of it. People with Dhamma who work together with people who lack Dhamma will do good without being aware of it. They’ll cure the people without Dhamma, so that Dhamma develops in them steadily.

I have seen people who have gone to work as clerks or officials, who are calm, humble, and have Dhamma. They are able to cool down bosses who fly into rages, are hurried, and lack Dhamma. Know that if we have an employee who is cool and calm, and shows it, we can’t explode. We would be too ashamed, or else feel pity for him.

Even with these wat boys, some have something cool about them and others are almost the opposite. We must have our own sensitivity for this: “Ahhmm, they’re totally different. With that boy there we act in one way, with this one we must act another way.” Such cool kids will help to cool down the old folks and grey-hairs, if the kids have cool characters.

I believe that Dhamma isn’t likely to be objectionable for use in a world lacking peace and coolness. A monk coming from correct “forest wat wild monk,” who stays at a city wat with a totally different style, will have an immediate influence on the city folk. They’ll notice that “we’re hot and he’s cool.” The only question is whether or not the cool monk from the forest can guard that calm and correctness all the time. Mostly they lose it, change, and are swallowed up. If not, they must escape back to the forest. They can’t handle the city, it’s full of annoyances. No harm done, because we ought to be able to choose in this world. If we want peace, we have the right to find a peaceful place. But wherever the wild monk goes, he automatically teaches the “Peaceful Creed” right there. There will be some success, and some automatic “blessings,” too. Make an example of peace for them to see, be truly happy for them to see, they’ll be interested and some will even follow. You’ll get “merit” and the world becomes a better place.

If we speak of the Arahant, various principles show that such a human being can never get hot again. So she can go to the city, to the capitol, to any chaotic place, without dying. He wouldn’t die, but probably would get fed up beyond toleration, then have to flee. If she couldn’t escape, she might die. But I don’t think so, because he’d adjust his heart inside in an unbelievable way. There’s no need to get hot with those people. Yet, what’s the point of being troubled by it all, avoid it to find an appropriate place.

This talking and raising examples back and forth is to increase understanding of “forest wat wild monks.” Do you know the difference between living as a forest wat wild monk and living as a city monk? You’ve never lived as forest wat wild monks. There’s only a little time left, you better try it out quickly. Quickly live up to its standard, you’ll understand the matter well. Although you return to the city later, you won’t be the same. It will change you from how you were. You’ll change in a good and useful way, too. So I felt we should talk about this for the sake of the time left in the Rains, that you might get more interested in the “forest wat wild monks” style.

At the beginning of the Rains, I already told you about these things, such as, don’t laugh a lot, speak only a little, try to stay with Nature. But I understand you couldn’t do it, and just let it go. More than enough time has passed, now you ought to be able, at least a little more than before. This means just “live like a monk (Phra) ” more and more. You’ll know the flavor of the monk’s life which we call “forest wat wild monks.” You’ll never have a chance to try living like a wild monk in the city. You must come to the forest, to a naturally free place, to taste and to try it, to know Dhamma of the sort the Buddha realised and proclaimed.

If not that, then why ordain? Each of you ought to ask yourself why you ordained? Why did you take leave to do this temporary going forth? To understand what? To sample what? To get what? With certainty — like pounding a fist into the ground — we answer, “to get exactly what we’ve been talking about.” Without leaving home, you couldn’t get it. You would have no chance even to see or sample or give it a try. Ordination was necessary.

Now that you’ve ordained, to get what the Buddha got, you must live close to how the Buddha lived. He lived and maintained life in such a way that we turn back to the “forest wat wild monks” life-style. If we don’t live this way, we couldn’t get, experience, or sample the Buddha’s life.

The monks in the Buddha’s time, the Buddha himself, and whichever founder of whatever religion, all got started in a life intimate with Nature. All of them awakened in forests surrounded by Nature. Whether the Buddha, Jesus Christ, or the prophet of any religion, they lived close to nature. To awaken as a Perfectly Self-Awakened Buddha; or to become One with God, to communicate with God, according to the religions that have a God; that moment is living as a comrade of nature. So try to remember the words: how good it is to be nature’s comrade.”

This means that you have accepted, have believed, and have seen that the Lord Buddha is a real Buddha (Awakened Being), the highest sort of person, who knows the best thing that humans ought to know, and you want to know that, too. This is why we make this effort. We shouldn’t be tricked into believing that the Buddha taught only “householder virtue” (gharavasa-dhamma) for the lay folk.

If he only taught ordinary household matters, he would have served no purpose, since anybody could and was teaching those things well enough already. Although the Buddha sometimes taught about householder subjects, it was solely the sort of Dhamma fit for lay folk who were looking for nibbana. The lay folk already were being taught well enough. For the Buddha to help teach these matters, he would teach the type of lay person who is ready to discover Dhamma, to reach nibbana. This brings us back to our subject.

There’s merely a small amount which the Buddha taught lay folk for the sake of being lay folk. But what he taught with the fullest satisfaction of his heart was the matter of suññata (voidness). Some householders asked him for the Dhamma most beneficial for the household life and he came back with voidness. He told them to have voidness, namely, a heart void of “I” and “mine.” Then they could do anything in the form of a householder, thus becoming householders who are ready to be Arahant, or more than half ready to proceed along the Arahant’s line.

Thus, that we live like “forest wat wild monks” to understand voidness well is in the same line. It follows the trail of householders who should study voidness. You can read in all the books about voidness that they’ve printed how the Buddha taught voidness to lay folk.

Now, I’m afraid that those who will return to lay life, or already are householders, have not yet found voidness at all. Because the customs and traditions have changed, there’s no Buddha to teach voidness to lay folk. Nor are any of the monks in the cities likely to teach voidness to householders. Then, how are lay folk going to understand voidness?

I insist that by trying to live like “forest wat wild monks” for a little while, you’ll understand voidness. Although you don’t call it voidness, although you don’t feel you’re practising voidness, you still will get the results of practising voidness: a heart which is void and cool, which is clean, clear, and calm.

Do your work with a heart that doesn’t suffer. Receive the fruits of labour without making it a problem, not dancing with joy or going crazy over the benefits received. You can work more, until however wealthy you want, but with a different heart, that is, a cool and peaceful one. It’s a heart that always wins, nothing can make it anxious. Nowadays, people can work, earn money, find status, and gain fame, but they’re always losing. They’re always hot, always made and kept hot. What’s good about that? Before long, they’ll have some nervous breakdown or drop dead.

Very few people are naturally — “accidentally” or “flukishly” — cool. That lay folk can have cool hearts naturally in line with Dhamma principles is, of course, possible. It isn’t beyond or against their nature, but it seldom happens. It can happen with good surroundings, with good genes, or with a nervous system that nature coincidentally built to be like that. But don’t cross your fingers and wait, because it’s rare. Let’s just say most of us are born ordinary.

What can we do to become special individuals, that is, unable to suffer? No matter what happens, we can’t suffer and can’t get hot. Whether rich or poor, we are unable to get hot or anxious. Who can insure that the wealthy will always be wealthy or that the poor will always be poor? Things change constantly. Especially this modern world, it changes so easily, so fast, so suddenly. Regarding the progress of humanity which is quickly, violently destroying the world with War and what have you, both changing up and changing down, don’t be the least hot or anxious about it.

Should war erupt and wipe out life on earth, such people don’t give it any meaning. They can still laugh because they’ve reached Dhamma. They’ve attained the sort of Dhamma that makes further suffering impossible. They have no more problems here. Impoverished for necessary reasons, they don’t suffer. Not anxious or miserable, they get out of poverty before you know it. If one has Dhamma, there’s no suffering. If one lacks sufficient Dhamma, there’s nothing but suffering and anguish. Rich and miserable, poor and miserable: they’re hot no matter what. So take the side which is neither hot nor miserable while you’ve got the chance.

This is why I ask you to hurry up and study-practice, hurry to try it out, hurry to find the point where suffering can’t exist, the point which can’t get hot. Discover as much as you can, so that your life in the future can’t get hot, or is hot as little as possible, or once hot can be dropped quickly.

They call this “The Noble One” (ariya), but I don’t want to talk about that. Before you know it, all kinds of distracting thoughts will come up. To be incapable of hotness is to be a Noble One, according to the particular level or state: Stream-Enterer (sotapanna), Once-Returner (sakadagami), Non-Returner (anagami), or Worthy One(arahant). Ultimately, the mind can’t get hot at all. It gets hot less and less until it’s unheatable and nowhere hot. The Noble One’s feelings 10 are thoroughly cooled. That’s the meaning of the highest level of “Arahant,” the level of anupadisesa-nibbana-dhatu (the nibbana element with no fuel and heat remaining): thoroughly cool. The rest are progressively cool; even when hot, they aren’t hot like a thickster (putthujana, worldly person) is hot. The hotness of thicksters is like being singed by fire or scalded with boiling water. The first stages of Noble Ones might feel a bit hot sometimes, but never like the thicksters burn. Nevertheless, I don’t want to use these words very much, or get you stuck on or attached to using them. So let’s just say “human beings.” Just people, just us, all the same. Yet, we can be less hot and more cool, until we can’t get hot in ordinary situations, and until we can’t get hot in even the worst situations.

There are loads of the Buddha’s words recorded in the Pali which encourage us to think and train so that we need not get hot. I don’t have to quote the Pali any more, you can believe me that they are there. If the scriptures aren’t like that, what good would they be? They teach us to be cool.

If you get hot through carelessness, be very sorry. If you haven’t felt these things, you’re heedless, the same as dead. If you feel them but pretend that you don’t, you’re shameless, lacking in hiri (moral shame) and ottappa (fear of the results of evil). To get hotter with age, to get more angry, to get worse in any way, is to lack hiri-ottappa. You must know spiritual shame and fear. The most frightening thing is to be a human who is hot, just a fool, a lost person who is full of defilement and selfishness. You can’t call that a human being. Better call it a “fool.”

So for the time that remains, test yourself as if taking exams. Is it hot or not? Even a small slip into hotness should make you quite sorry and ashamed. You ought to penalise yourself appropriately. You can do it without anybody knowing. But please penalise yourselves whenever careless, when going wrong on this point and becoming hot. Eventually the mind changes, becomes more careful, and can make progress along the Dhamma way.

Hot due to lust or greed is one form. Hot due to anger or hatred is another form. Hot due to delusion or ignorance is a third form. You’ve learned these names before, I shouldn’t have to explain anymore. As soon as mindfulness is missing, ignorance takes over. It lusts and covets, it gets hot with the emotions of avarice and lust. In “negative” situations, it gets angry and hateful. It becomes hot with anger, with aversion, with malice. Then, in some cases we don’t know anything: don’t know the original cause, don’t know what’s up, don’t know even what we want. We’re full of doubts about what we ought to want. There’s no certainty about how our life is, what should come of it, how it should be lived. This not knowing is delusion. It too is hot.

So if you want to test yourselves, it won’t be difficult. The time remaining is enough to do some self-examination. Speak little, keep to yourself, and constantly observe the heart. Call it “constantly guarding the heart.” It’s automatic mental development, or meditation. When always watching over the heart, that’s vipassana, that’s meditation. If you find it’s hot, then know it’s hot, that it’s still low, wrong, and must be cured. And you better have some regret. At the same time, know how it is hot and what caused the hotness.

In the end, you will find the truth exactly as the Buddha taught. Before, we didn’t know it, we just heard about it. Now we know that thing truly. We understand Dhamma from ourselves, without needing to know the Buddha. And if they force us to speak, we automatically will speak the same as the Buddha regarding the nature of greed, hatred, and delusion.

This very thing is the Buddha’s supreme aim, yet the big monks never talk about it. They usually threaten us not to raise ourselves up as equals to the Buddha, not to insult the Buddha. In this matter, if you want to understand something, I can tell you straight that the Buddha wanted people to reach the Dhamma without needing to believe their teacher, and then are able to explain that Dhamma without needing to repeat their teacher’s words. Did you listen right? Listen again: know the Dhamma without believing the Buddha. Because we know personally, then we know the same thing as the Buddha. Then, if we must speak for the sake of others, we needn’t repeat after the Buddha, needn’t quote Pali, needn’t recite the texts. Just speak according to experience. Then it will be identical to what the Buddha said. Then, people needn’t repeat after the Buddha, they can speak their own hearts. This state of affairs is what the Buddha himself wanted. You can find it in the Pali, in many places. That they must memorise and recite the Buddha’s words, afraid of getting just one word wrong, that’s merely a custom, a tradition of people who don’t really know, or still don’t really know, still don’t understand Dhamma.

So we hurry to know Dhamma. That itself will be in line with what the Buddha realised. We can speak out according to what we know; it will be identical with what the Buddha said. It might look like one’s a Buddha oneself, so they forbid anyone to do such a thing, afraid that one is raising oneself up equal to the Buddha or is disparaging the Buddha. This here is an obstacle preventing us from progressing along the Buddha’s path.

OK, so we study Dhamma from within, by living in the midst of Nature which reveals and demonstrates the Dhamma all the time. Uphold a form of life which doesn’t sound very good at all: live like a forest wat wild monk. It doesn’t sound right, but it is most meaningful, most real, and most necessary to live in this way up until you must disrobe. You may change back to the householder’s way of life, but this should stick with you: knowledge, understanding, and certainty about the Dhamma which makes us incapable of hotness. Take it with you. By bathing yourself in coolness until understanding coolness, you can’t do wrong or get hot. You’ll probably get cooler and cooler because it’s something naturally attractive: the absence of dukkha (suffering). Please don’t forget this short phrase: “forest wat wild monks” is the way of living for the person who wants to reach the Buddha quickly.

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Happiness cannot be achieved by accumulating and holding on to outside favourable circumstances and worldly glories. I don’t know whether there is an eternal happiness or not, but there is an unconditional happiness. Unconditional happiness comes from this secret: surrender. Surrender is the act of loving and embracing the great unknown. Unconditional happiness comes from not running away from anything. It comes from taking even the most unfavoUrable circumstances as a path, a spiritual path, a truthful teaching.

— Anam Thubten Rinpoche

提起放下
文|行彻

从前,在北京读书的时候,曾经认识一位“善良”的郝女士,她对一只猫百般宠爱。由于她的丈夫性情暴躁,她竟然为了这只猫,跟丈夫分居了。俗话说“天有不测风云”,一天,这只猫突然病逝了。这突如其来的改变,对她的打击太大了,她边哭边为这只猫念了三天三夜的佛号,始终还是不舍得将猫的尸体拿去埋葬,心里还筹划着给猫儿买块坟地。后来,在亲人的执意反对下,她只好考虑拿到天坛公园的柏树下埋葬。

我有幸被邀请参加了猫的葬礼,当我挖好土坑,将猫的尸体放入,盖上泥土的时候,她悲痛万分,仍然恋恋不舍,哭得死去活来。作为旁观者的我,爱莫能助,只有感叹:世间多少痴情种,终将梦境以为真!

一、谁为放下?

事实上,郝女士只是我们无数众生当中的一个代表。从凡夫角度来说,这种反应实属“正常”。但让人不解的是,她为什么会如此拖泥带水,如此执著放不下呢?在后来的岁月里,我逐渐明白了,其实,一个活在妄想迷梦当中的人,根本不知梦是虚妄的,而总是把梦境当真,因此在梦中遭遇种种爱恨情仇、喜怒苦乐,都是“自作自受”。可是谁又在梦中知道自己在做梦呢?

佛在经中曾举过这样一个譬喻:转轮圣王富有又尊贵,有一次在午休时,躺在美玉造的座椅上睡着了。他梦见自己变成了一只贫贱的蚂蚁,每天都在寻找别人吃剩下的东西,时刻警惕着外界的动静,总是担心受怕。这时,他完全记不得自己原本的身份了。当他被百般蹂躏,痛苦万分时,哇哇哭醒。这时,身边的亲友轻轻地拍他,他这才知道原来只是一场梦!

二、为何放下?

还有一个在迷梦中不知清醒的个案:在佛陀时代,有一个少妇,名叫乔达弥。她唯一的儿子在一岁左右时病逝了。乔达弥伤心欲绝,抱着小尸体在街上盲目地奔走,碰到人就问对方是否有药可以救活这孩子,大家都觉得她疯了。有一位好心人告诉她,世上只有佛可以救她的孩子。乔达弥找到了佛陀,求佛救救孩子。佛以无限悲心倾听着,然后轻声说:“只有一个方法可以治疗你的痛苦。你到城里去,向任何一户没死过人的人家,要回一把芥菜籽来做药引。”乔达弥高兴极了,立刻前往城里。

乔达弥走遍全城的人家去要菜籽,但得到的回答都是一样的:有芥菜籽,但是家里已经有很多人过世了。她终于明白了佛的用意,便把儿子的尸体抱到坟场,做最后的道别,然后回到佛那里。“你带回芥菜籽了吗?”佛问。“不!”她说:“我开始了解您给我的教法,悲伤让我盲目,我以为只有我一个人承受死亡的折磨。”佛问:“你为什么又回来呢?”她答:“请您开示死亡的真相,我身上是否有什么东西是不死的?”

佛开示说:“如果你想了生死,必须时刻反省,世间只有一个永不改变的法则,那就是一切都是无常变化的。脱离生死轮回的方法只有一个,那就是解脱之道。”这时,乔达弥终于醒悟了。她顶礼佛足,终其一生追随佛陀。

三、如何放下?

放下,并不等于放弃。很多人以为学佛修行,就要放弃很多,比如说事业、家庭。其实,真正的放下,应该是看破妄想(观),放下执著(行)。就好比,一个修行人要吃饭,而不修行的人也要吃饭,但修行人吃饭的目的只是维持生命而不是满足欲望。同样的道理,修行人不是不做事情,而是放下对事情的执念,也许这样事情会做得更好,执念也因此而降低。

有些人对名闻利养、繁杂纷扰、人我是非等都可以放下,认为现实的红尘俗世不关自己的事,宁可躲进深山野岭,逍遥自在。他们提不起对家庭、社会的责任,生不起对众生疾苦的悲悯之心,总觉得不关己事,不见不闻,不扰己心,独善其身。这种消极的“自了汉”心态,在现实社会中还是不少的。

怎样才是正确的理解呢?这涉及到一个人的观念认知如何影响行为的问题:自觉是正确的观念,是看破迷梦,放下即得解脱;觉他是利他的一种正确行为,是铁肩担道义——担起一切众生的苦难,负起家庭、社会的责任,提起即是菩提。因此,要放下的是生不带来、死不带去的名闻利养,是逃避式的自寻解脱的心态,而要提起的是止恶修善、内修外弘的菩提心,是度化众生和绍隆佛种的责任。可见,放下固然好,但提起更难。一个人如果将优良的传统、做人的原则和求真的信念都放下了,那他的人生还能拥有什么呢?所以,菩提心要提起来,正信和正行要提起来,正见和正语要提起来,慈悲与道德要提起来,公理与善缘要提起来,精进与宽容要提起来……这些如果提不起来,活着还有什么价值?做人还有什么意义?

四、提放自如

因此,放下,首先应该提得起。所谓提起,就是有担当,可以负起大任,但当因缘转变时,随时可以放下,毫不眷恋,更不拖泥带水。如何做到呢?有人问布袋和尚:“如何是佛法大意?”他一声不响地放下布袋。有人又问:“为只如此为,更有向上事?”他同样一声不响地拿起布袋就走了。只有这样,才能达到心我两忘的境界,那么还有什么是非、憎爱呢?

放下了是非憎爱、自私与执著,提起的是清净、喜乐和助人的义务。放下,是做人的自觉的本分,回归生命的实相;提起,是觉他利他的责任。要是放不下,就会带来许多无端的烦恼、痛苦和束缚。因此,弥勒菩萨一声不响地把布袋放下,放下的是自我解脱的清闲;一声不响地提起布袋,提起的是随遇而安、随缘度化、随心奉献的承当。在该放下时放下,该提起时提起,这是对缘起实相如实观照,清醒地安住当下的人生态度。

在佛教中,文殊菩萨是智慧的象征,被尊为诸佛之母、七佛之师。对于需要帮助的人,该出手时就出手,随缘任运,如实面对,但做完之后,时空因缘转换了,过去心不可得,就洒脱放下。“功成身退”是千百年来的宝贵经验,也是佛法无我人生观与无常世界观的智慧结晶。

总之,在短暂的人生中,荣华富贵、成败得失,只不过南柯一梦。瞬息万变的身心世界,如晨曦之秋露,没有什么值得执著不放。看得破,就放得下,放下就得解脱,因为智慧没有烦恼,慈悲才受敬重。心怀慈悲,就能提起对社会人群无私奉献的勇气,宣扬和平与真理之音,传承正法的根苗,承担众生的苦难。

一个人如果放不下以“我”为中心的思维模式和行为习惯,又怎么可以提得起无我的度生悲愿呢?因此,对世间因果规律了解越深,就越能止恶行善,舍己为人,提起无私奉献的道德勇气;对万法缘起法则静观透视越深,就越能一念不生,彻底放下。知道人间聚散离合都是因缘,缘生无性,就能从头提起,大死一番,凤凰涅槃,浴火重生。彻头彻尾地放下对身心和五欲的执著,才能重新开始,做一个尽责任、守本分的菩萨行者。

无疑的,越能看得破、放得下,心胸就越加豁达宽广,气度也越加恢弘。这样,才能恬然自乐,自由自在。

The mind of enlightenment is like the earth, gold, the moon, fire, treasure, a jewel mine, the ocean, a vajra, the king of mountains, medicine, a guru, a wish fulfilling jewel, the sun, a song, a king, a treasure house, a highway, a horse, a spring, a sweet sound, a river and a cloud.

— Asanga

The Path
by Dzigar Kongtrul Rinpoche

Before I get into the body of instructions on the bodhisattva trainings, I want to give an overview of the whole Buddhist path. The Buddhist teachings can be divided into two categories. In the first are the Buddha’s own words spoken during his lifetime, as recorded in the sutras, called kha in Tibetan. Then there are the commentaries that were written by Buddha’s disciples — arhats and the great mahapanditas of the noble land of India, such as Nagarjuna, Aryadeva, Asanga, and Vasubandhu. The texts they composed, elucidating the Buddha’s teachings, are collectively known as tencho in Tibetan or shastra in Sanskrit. Whether it is the kha, Buddha’s teachings in his own words, or the tencho, the words of his disciples, the great teachers of India, Tibet, or any other place, all Buddhist teachings fall into three categories: Vinaya, Sutra, and Abhidharma.

All teachings have two qualities. The first is that they protect the student by providing the intelligence, wisdom, and skillful means to prevent the individual from taking a rebirth in the lower realms. In other words, they help whoever studies them to reduce the afflictive emotions and their cause, the tendency towards clinging to the self, and the root cause of that, which is ignorance. If the teachings don’t affect the mind in this way, then they will not protect beings from falling down into the lower realms. Teachings must have the quality of remedying confused mind. The second quality of the teachings is the capacity to bring the student to higher realms and a greater appreciation of his or her own nature, an understanding of and ability to rely on these exalted characteristics. So these are the two qualities of the teachings: protecting us from our disturbing emotions and how these can bring us down; and illuminating and thus helping us appreciate our own nature and its qualities.

The three categories of the teachings Vinaya, Sutra, and Abhidharma — form the path to realisation. Essentially, to obtain enlightenment we need discipline, meditation, and wisdom. Without discipline and a change in our approach to life, we, as confused sentient beings, will always do the same thing and jeopardise our own freedom and happiness. Therefore, the Vinaya must be practised. Vinaya is basically taking a vow, be it Hinayana, Mahayana, or Vajrayana. These vows protect us. These vows guard us against indulging in our habits. The vows are mindfulness practice. By following the precepts, we train our being in a new approach. We train ourselves to refrain from past negative habits, and then through the vow and precepts we practice to increase and discipline ourselves in positive actions.

The Vinaya teachings are the follow-up to teachings on karma. We try to distance ourselves from karma that is unfavourable to us. We need to have some discipline to do so. We try to engage in karma that is positive to our well-being and our future lives. We endeavour to learn how to engage more efficiently and precisely. We must practice the Vinaya to attain enlightenment. Whether it is in the Hinayana, Mahayana, or Vajrayana, everyone must practice the Vinaya, the teachings of discipline. Without discipline, there is no leap to enlightenment. That is why the teachings of the Buddha and his disciples all fall in one way into the Vinaya.

The second category is the Sutra teachings. These include instructions on meditation: how to cultivate skillful means in order to get a clear, deep insight into one’s nature, as well as how to cultivate the enlightened qualities that our nature offers. We are taught to skillfully follow the tradition of the various methods discovered by the Buddha. The instructions open up many possibilities for a more efficient and greater meditation practice that removes ignorance and obscurations. Hence our nature can then outshine the obscurations and purify them. All of these teachings are called Sutra teachings. We can have very profound discipline, but without meditation the path to enlightenment is incomplete. The Sutra teachings are thus the second category of the teachings of the Buddha.

The final category is the Abhidharma. Abhidharma is made up of true statements of how things actually are, in both the absolute and relative sense. It consists of teachings on the wisdom aspect — discovering the wisdom within our mind. How things are in the absolute sense is shunyata, empty of any true existence. How things are in the relative sense is illusory. Samsara begins with the illusion; nirvana is the cessation of that illusion. The teachings explain how to realise illusion as illusion, and how to end illusion and come to fully experience the cessation of that, which is nirvana itself. Nirvana is constantly present and constantly unchanging. It’s always present while the illusion is happening, in the same way that a white screen remains unchangingly present even as all the colours of the movie continue to play on its surface.

Discipline is very important, therefore, in the Vinaya teachings. Meditation is also very important, hence the Sutra teachings. Wisdom is very important to enlightenment, thence the Abhidharma teachings. From this perspective, we see the three kinds of training needed on the path to enlightenment: training in discipline, meditation, and wisdom.

There is yet another way of categorising the Buddha’s teachings, namely in terms of scriptural teachings and realisation teachings. The scriptural teachings are found in books: They are the teachings that are explained by the teacher, the teachings that you read, hear, study, and contemplate. Essentially, these have more to do with the relative aspect of truth. The teachings of realisation are on the essential awareness that actually brings the individual to a state of nirvana. That is the recognition of shunyata itself, egolessness, the realisation of the absolute state. The absolute state, nature, or truth is the nature of all phenomena. Nirvana is always pure, never changing. It is the absence of confused perception or delusion. Even though in the absolute nirvana is unchanging, individual beings who are confused, caught up in the relative mind of obscurations, do not benefit from absolute truth or nirvana. However, the fundamental nature of absolute truth or nirvana provides the possibility for the deluded individual to slowly and gradually wake up to the truth by purifying obscurations and ignorance.

Prior to that point, the ground of enlightenment is in all beings, but the path has not begun. When the process of awakening begins, one has entered the path. When an individual has completely gone through the process of waking up to the absolute truth, that person literally possesses the nirvana that was always there but was not actualised. When the obscurations are no longer a hindrance to seeing the absolute nature, you repossess what was innately present. Now you can fully engage with nirvana. This is the ultimate destiny for all beings, because everyone is seeking nirvana.

Maitreya Buddha has said that all sentient beings possess the instinctive longing for freedom from pain, the instinctive longing for happiness. This instinctive longing for happiness, for freedom from pain and suffering, is the intuitive intelligence of the buddha nature present in all beings expressing itself. Otherwise, how could an instinct exist if it had no way to express itself? If there were no way to find ultimate happiness or freedom, why would that instinct exist in the first place? Right up until the point of complete nirvana that instinct is unfulfilled. No ultimate happiness is achieved, since one has not completely freed oneself from pain and the cause of pain.

The ultimate destiny of all beings is enlightenment. It is always present, but because we are confused and totally overwhelmed by delusion, the natural nirvana of the enlightened nature remains only a disposition. By disposition I mean a propensity to slowly and gradually work to fulfil a particular destiny. The disposition of an apple seed, for example, is to become an apple tree. The minds of all sentient beings have the disposition to become enlightened, and the intuitive, intelligent aspect of this is expressed by their longing for happiness and freedom from suffering — but just that alone is not going to do it.

We need more clarity, understanding, and realisation of the truth, the wisdom aspect. Then we need meditation to purify the obscurations and habits. We also need the Vinaya, the discipline to do this. The essence of the Dharma is the realisation of suchness, of the natural nirvana. This is free of concepts. It is the experience of the truth. Concepts point us in the right direction, but concepts themselves are dualistic, and thus are blind to the actual truth itself. When we don’t completely shed all our concepts and instead engage in them, we are in relative mind, not absolute mind.

Realisation of the absolute truth that resides in the minds of the buddhas, bodhisattvas, and great masters is always free of concepts. In this state there is no arising, dwelling, or ceasing. Concepts, however, have arising, dwelling, and ceasing. The scriptural Dharma is conceptual, but we need it in order to get to the ultimate realisation. The scriptural Dharma, its study and contemplation, is like a bridge. Once you’ve crossed the bridge, you no longer need it, because you’ve gotten to where you wanted to go. However, even when you don’t need the bridge for yourself, it can be important for others. Similarly, scriptural Dharma is very important in communicating with others.

Now, a bodhisattva is an individual who has come onto the path to enlightenment, and has achieved partial purification and partial obtainment of the enlightened qualities. Entering the path of the bodhisattva is the beginning of the ripening of the seed of enlightened mind. Until that happens, there is not even the ability to hear this truth. Even if you happen to hear about it, you won’t believe it, because you are simply not interested. When there is interest in not only hearing of it but in deeply believing it, this is the time of awakening. From the time of the seed’s awakening all the way up until full enlightenment is the bodhisattva path. In the path of the bodhisattva, there are five paths and ten bhumis. The five paths are the path of accumulation, the path of engagement, the path of seeing, the path of meditation, and the path of no more learning.

The path of accumulation is when one actually, seriously, and deeply turns away from ignorance and the cause of suffering and generates the aspiration to be enlightened. This enlightenment is not sought after for oneself, but for the benefit of all sentient beings, so that they themselves may attain freedom from suffering and enlightenment. When such an aspiration for enlightenment is given birth to and is then supported by one or many positive actions, this is the outset of the path of accumulation. On the path of accumulation the seed of awakening is planted, through the hearing, contemplating, and meditating wisdom. Through these three aspects one gains more insight. The power of these is called merit, which will bring one to real experience. On the path of engagement, one actually learns about the absolute truth and has an understanding of the view of emptiness through meditation. This understanding or experience of the ultimate truth of shunyata is not completely naked or clear. It is more of an intellectual understanding than a true experience of shunyata or egolessness. But the way to the direct experience of shunyata is via the path of engagement. The path of engagement involves a sense of making shunyata your life.

On the path of seeing, the way has started to become your life. During this path, there is the beginning of maturation, which unfolds in the path of meditation. The path of meditation is the maturation of directly realising shunyata. One experiences all phenomena as illusory, as a means to perfect one’s enlightened activities to benefit beings.

There are two kinds of obscurations that need to be purified on the path to enlightenment: the emotional obscurations and the cognitive obscurations. Emotional obscurations are the five disturbing emotions of passion, aggression, stupidity, jealousy, and arrogance and all their various aspects. The reason they are called emotional obscurations is because our emotions are involved, and also because they come from a sense of clinging to a self. How are they obscurations? When we are engaged in, say, anger, we lose clarity; caught up in the experience of anger, our clarity is blocked. We lose not only the experience of truth, but of any opportunity to realise the truth.

The cognitive obscurations are basically dualistic mind — mind that actually believes things to be real, that believes subjective mind to be real, the objective world to be real, mind that believes there is some kind of intrinsic nature or existence to everything. The cognitively obscured mind does not see all things as illusory or dreamlike. It sincerely believes that this table is real, this book is real, this statue is real, this cup is real, this hand is real — that every aspect of one’s feelings and perceptions is real. Believing something to be real is the fundamental cognitive obscuration, which prevents one from seeing the illusory nature of things, their ultimate emptiness.

The emotional obscurations are purified on the path of seeing. Then it takes ten bhumis to purify the cognitive obscurations. The view of the absolute truth of shunyata or egolessness that one sees on the path of seeing is increased on the path of meditation. There is nothing new on the path of meditation in terms of seeing, but one’s perspective or experience of it is increased and strengthened, like a waxing moon that over time increases its light and clarifies the darkness.

Likewise, what you experience on the path of seeing is the absolute truth of egolessness, the experience of which increases over time and thus purifies the obscurations. When all the obscurations, both emotional and cognitive, are purified, you have attained Buddhahood. At this point you have accomplished the final path, the path of no more learning. You know the absolute truth as well as the entire variety of things there are to know. You have two wisdoms: the wisdom of knowing the absolute truth, the suchness aspect, and the wisdom of knowing everything there is to know.

To sum up, the bodhisattva path consists of five paths and ten bhumis. In all of these five paths and ten bhumis, the main thing the bodhisattva actually practices is bodhichitta.

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To keep the body in good health is a duty, otherwise we shall not be able to keep our mind strong and clear.

— The Buddha